07/08/2013 15:00 BST | Updated 07/10/2013 06:12 BST

Alex Salmond is Running a Counterfeit Campaign


Summer is usually the silly season for the media. Starved of real news, journalists are often forced to fill column inches with stories that would be unlikely to make the paper during the rest of the year.

However the issues raised in the referendum campaign over the last few days have been more substantial.


The spectacular implosion of the 'Labour' for Independence campaign, after it was exposed as a front for SNP members and elected politicians, demonstrated the utter ruthlessness of the campaign to break up the UK. Unlike the front organisation, the camera never lies and the photographs of SNP politicians pretending to represent Labour have been shared with hundreds of thousands of people on social media.

Next, the SNP Government's long-running attempts to conceal their legal advice on an independent Scotland's position in the EU resurfaced after the Law Society of Scotland called on them to finally publish their legal opinion.

Then today it emerged that Alex Salmond misled the Scottish Parliament on private pensions. Back in May Mr Salmond promised parliament on three occasions that no special deal would be needed to prevent the break-up of cross-border pension schemes after independence. Yet he admitted in a Sunday interview that a special EU deal will be needed after all or else we will have to break up the pension schemes of thousands of Scots who have worked hard and put something by for their retirement.

A campaign that is truly confident in its argument wouldn't have to behave in this manner. The man who spotted my Better Together badge on the number 38 bus and struck up a conversation about the referendum put it far better than I can: "If independence was such a good idea, why can't Alex Salmond be more honest about it?"

For me, though, the most significant development hasn't been SNP members pretending to be Labour - it is Alex Salmond's independence campaign pretending to be the Better Together campaign.

Better Together's argument from the day we launched has been that Scotland can have the best of both worlds: a distinctive Scottish Parliament, with strong powers, backed up by the strength and security of being part of a bigger United Kingdom.

The best of both worlds concept has been the central argument throughout our campaign and the one that has had the most impact with voters. People in Scotland are instinctively sceptical of being forced into an all-or-nothing choice by the nationalists. We believe the Scottish Parliament has been a real success but we just don't want to lose the back-up of being part of something bigger.

The argument plays just as strongly on issues of identity. Most of us feel proudly Scottish first and at least a bit British too. One of the ironies of the nationalist project is that many Scots who have never considered themselves to be British at all are now examining what that aspect of our place in the world means to them.

It may not be the defining issue for all of us, but Scots recoil at any attempt by politicians to appropriate our identity. The reaction from the public to Alex Salmond holding up our flag on Centre Court wasn't about a lack of national confidence. People just don't like politicians encroaching on something that they feel is bigger than politics.

Over recent weeks the nationalists have attempted to adopt the slogan as their own. Leading nationalists, from Nicola Sturgeon down, have used the phrase again and again over the summer. Their attempt to steal our language is an embarrassing admission that it is our pro-devolution campaign that is offering what the clear majority of people in Scotland want, not the independence campaign.

Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery but most people don't want to purchase counterfeit goods. If the choice is between an independence campaign pretending to be a devolution campaign and a campaign which is wholeheartedly for devolution within the strength of the UK, Scots will choose the real thing.

I suspect that an increasing number of true nationalist believers share the concerns expressed recently by nationalist grandee George Keravan that the clumsy attempt by Alex Salmond to de-risk independence has left their cause seeming inauthentic.

Next year it will be 25 years since former Labour leader John Smith gave the speech to the first meeting of the Scottish Constitutional Convention where he proclaimed devolution as our "settled will". The party led by Alex Salmond sat outside the devolution Convention on a matter of principle: they opposed devolution inside the UK, arguing instead for separation from the UK.

Our experience of the success of devolution since 1999 has only strengthened our settled will. We understand the value of devolution within the UK and we know that it is fundamentally different from leaving the UK. The SNP's language isn't the problem, it is their offer.